The name promises much. The name inspires obstreperous agreement. Yeah, to hell with publishing, anyway! This is 2009. We're all about downloads, and Kindle, and Twittered novels, and free information, and Google books, and plots we can download via wires straight into our arteries, and plugging into authors via Friendfeed, and instant updates, and modules! To hell with publishing, to hell with journals, to hell with prizes, to hell with first novels. Yeah! Fist-pump!
From a group of projects so provocatively named, I now expect mind-blowing innovation. I expect earthshaking progress. I expect, at the very least, heaps of scorn for the old way of doing things, and arms flung wide open to the new, digital world. Please, make sense of fiction on Twitter for me. Please, package blogged novels. Please, help me to understand new media. I beg you! Unfortunately, what I'm finding here is same old, same old. Instead of revolution, "To Hell with Publishing" is pushing cardstock, ink, and contracts. Readings at a library under a dropped ceiling. Submission guidelines -- click here! And please include a cover letter.
"To Hell with Publishing" is just another small press. Like every other small press in the history of earth, they desire to "return vital writing, and in particularly, the best in contemporary fiction, to the main literary stage." Well bra-thumping-vo. They publish... books. Books made of paper and glue. And they publish journals. They have a prize for... unpublished manuscripts, but unagented manuscripts are not considered. Please submit paper copies in triplicate, because at "To Hell with Publishing" they are all about the snail mail.
That name followed by that business model is like the sound of a trumpet fanfare followed by the sound of a drunk falling downstairs. Where's the innovation? Where's the middle finger raised to the literary establishment? Listen: Here are the two ways that "To Hell with Publishing" bites its thumb at the mainstream presses.
1. They will only publish first novels. No second novels! Oh my god! Their plan is that other publishers will swoop in and take over their authors' careers after novel #1. Because yeah, mainstream publishers are so interested in picking up seconds after the author has been deflowered of his first novel. Do I really have to pursue that analogy?
2. Their journal (To Hell with Journals) will only have 26 issues. They have decided this... in advance. Only 26 and no more, even if thousands of screaming fans are lined up outside the bookshop, demanding just one more issue, tearing up their organs in despair that only 26 issues can possibly be produced. They will stand innovatively firm on this principle: THEY WILL FOLD AFTER TWO YEARS.
These two policies manage to be simultaneously defeatist and overly ambitious. Yeah, we MEANT that journal to go under, and we MEANT that author to never produce another book, because that's all part of the rakish, devil-may-care plan we have here at "To Hell with Publishing." Look, there are already small presses out there doing exactly what THWP desires to do, but without these weird stipulations that seem to undercut any kind of longevity or long term relationship between press, author, and reader. Obviously a few more domain names are needed: tohellwithlegitimacy.com, tohellwithauthorloyalty.com, and tohellwithrelevance.com. "To Hell with Publishing" is a profound disappointment, leaving this reader still looking for the next great thing. When it comes along, I have a feeling that "To Hell with Publishing" would be a really cool name for it. Unfortunately, that domain name is already taken.